William Joseph NELSON

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  • "My deepest condolences to Bill and Bruce and the entire..."
    - Bradley Sears
  • "My heartfelt sympathy for your loss. May the God of all..."
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    - Joseph Payton
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    - Bob and Terri Gastellum
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NELSON, William Joseph Born on October 24, 1926 in Jewell, Iowa. Passed from this life on September 23, 2017 in Sun City, Arizona. Growing up in Iowa, Bill became interested in the sport of wrestling early on and developed into an Iowa state wrestling champion during his senior year at Eagle Grove High School in 1945. After high school, Bill went on to wrestle at Iowa State Teacher's College (now known as the University of Northern Iowa). During his college wrestling career, Bill was an NCAA champion in 1947, 1949, and 1950. If not for an injury during his sophomore season in 1948, Bill might have become the first four-time NCAA wrestling champion. Bill also earned a spot on the 1948 Olympic Team and was expected to win a medal in his sport. Unfortunately, he was injured in an exhibition match aboard the ship on the way to London (where the Olympic Games were held that year) and he was unable to compete there. Once Bill's career as a wrestler was over, he became a high school teacher and wrestling coach.  He coached high school teams in Brighton, Colorado, Osage, Iowa, and Kalamazoo, Michigan between 1957 and 1963. Bill left his coaching position at Kalamazoo Central High School to accept a job as the head wrestling coach at the University of Arizona in Tucson, a position he held from 1963 until his retirement in 1981. While at the University of Arizona, Bill was instrumental in bringing the NCAA National Wrestling Championship Tournament to Tucson in 1976. After his retirement in 1981, Bill and his wife, Violet (who married in 1947 after being high school sweethearts and recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary) eventually moved back to Iowa but spent each winter in Arizona, as they had family members and countless friends in both states. Bill is a member of the Iowa Wrestling Hall of Fame, the Michigan Wrestling Association Hall of Fame, the Arizona Wrestling Hall of Fame, the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame, the University of Northern Iowa Athletic Hall of Fame, the United States Wrestling Federation Hall of Fame, and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. But perhaps Bill's greatest accomplishment is the incalculable positive influence he has had on the lives of the hundreds of young men that he coached over the years. Bill's wrestlers became part of his family and he invariably became their mentor, counselor, father figure, teacher, and friend as well as their coach. Despite his many awards, the most satisfying accolades Bill received in life came from the many men who contacted him, sometimes fifty years after wrestling their last match for Bill, to tell him what a huge difference he had made in their lives. The world is a better place for having had Bill Nelson in it. Bill is survived by his wife, Violet; brother, Don Nelson; sister, Mary Ann Elrod; sons, Billy Nelson and Bruce Nelson (Ellen); daughters, Leanne England (Randy) and Lori Steele (Jeff); grandchildren, Ben, Haley, Richard, Amy, Wendy, Will, Margie, Glen, and Randi Leigh; as well as great-grandchildren, one great-great-grandchild, nieces, nephews, and cousins. Bill was preceded in death by parents, Harry and Fern Nelson; brothers, Dale Nelson and Harry Nelson and sisters, Nada Mattie and Phyllis Wobbeking. A Memorial Service will be held at Christ Church Campus at 655 N. Craycroft Road on Friday, September 29, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. In lieu of flowers, Bill's family requests that donations in Bill's memory be made to: A) The Wildcat Club – University of Arizona, 1721 E. Enke Drive, Tucson, AZ 85721. B) National Wrestling Hall of Fame: In Memory of Bill Nelson – NWHF, 405 W. Hall of Fame Avenue, Stillwater, OK 74075. C) National Wrestling Hall of Fame: Dan Gable Museum, 309 Jefferson Street, Waterloo, IA 50701. D) UNI Foundation, Wrestling Endowment, 204 Commons, Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0282.

Published in the Arizona Daily Star on Sept. 27, 2017
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